Last summer, I felt pretty prepared for law school. I was confident I could handle hours of poring over casebooks, job-hunting, and even trying that whole work-life balance thing. But like many 1Ls-to-be, there was one thing I dreaded: the Socratic classroom.

Socrates: the guy responsible for this

For the uninitiated: the Socratic method is a teaching style in which the professor will call on students at random – a practice colloquially referred to as “cold calling.” The professor may ask further questions, may play devil’s advocate, and may present hypothetical scenarios, a.k.a. “hypos”.

Last semester, my section lacked professors with styles like that of The Paper Chase’s Professor Kingsfield. We experienced a variety of teaching methods: voluntary participation, “panels” (groups of students scheduled to be “experts” for the day), and a low-key breed of Socratic method.

Then, spring semester arrived. Friends had heard through the grapevine that in one of our classes, there would be cold calling.

On the first day of class, the room went silent as our professor arrived. As the students in my general vicinity let out a collective gasp, he called on a student in the front row – to ask the not at all intimidating question of why we have criminal law. Yet this student answered well, as did the next, and the next and so forth. We adapted like mountain goats.

So, why use the Socratic method? Well, it certainly guarantees I’ll come to class thoroughly prepared. Also, it helps us improve at thinking on our feet.

No, not like that.

No, not like that.

Some students observe that they come away from Socratic discussions with more questions than answers. That’s exactly the point. Above all, this teaching style requires students to do more than regurgitate information from a casebook: it forces them to think critically about all sides of an issue – absolutely a valuable skill for future lawyers.

I’ll remind myself of this in class tomorrow, while anxiously wondering if I’m next.

This entry was written by and posted on March 30, 2010.
The entry was filed under these categories: Classes, Faculty, Tips and Advice, Topics of Law

Read more from Life at NYU Law

5 comments on “Living the Paper Chase
  1. Max Abend says:

    Hi Ashley,

    It’s refreshing coming to this blog and seeing the take on the curriculum from current students. It’s even more exciting to learn that my legal education won’t be so cliched as it is in the talkies. I also wanted to specifically mention your use of the Home Alone shot, very nice.

    Anywho, I chose your article to comment on, because, not being a “Life at NYU Law Blogger, I figured commenting on the most recently posted article would be the easiest way to get the following questions to real live people at NYU. I’m guessing the point of this blog is for the bloggers to show the student face of the school to prospective 1Ls to give them more information. However, after sending in my admissions deposit on Tuesday, I find I now have more questions then ever about NYU.

    Are there any forums or functions provided by this blog that would allow for a more interactive experience where I (and presumable other interested students) can have a dialogue with current students about what life and education at NYU are about? Right now it seems as though the communication is one way, and I feel guilty every time I send a silly question to the admissions office. I’ll be checking my email/this site and hope to hear from you or one of the other bloggers soon, and who knows, maybe I’ll be blogging this fall!

  2. pk767 says:

    Hi Max. I helped launch this blog for the Communications office. This blog is recently launched, but we do, in fact, hope that it will be interactive and a community. What questions do you have? Ask away!

  3. Ashley Smith says:

    Hi, Max –

    Thanks for commenting, and congratulations on your admission to NYU! Yes, feel free to ask away. If I don’t have the answer to a question you have, I can almost definitely find someone who does!

    It’s true, the NYU Law experience is far from cliche. As a student, there is a vast array of options available to you in terms of courses, student groups, clinics, lectures and panels, social events – plus all the Big Apple has to offer. For example, our clinic applications are due tomorrow, and there are so many choices that it’s almost overwhelming, but in a good way! (See for yourself: My next blog post will be about how remarkably easy it is to get involved at NYU – so stay tuned for that!

    Upon matriculating at NYU, my fear of finding myself awash in a sea of, well, stereotypical law students was very quickly assuaged. I’m kind of obsessed with how great the NYU Law student body is. This place just seems to attract great people, and I feel fortunate to be among them. I hope – in fact, would bet – that you’ll feel the same way too.

    – Ashley

  4. Dana M. says:

    Hi Ashley,

    My name is Dana. I am currently looking into different law schools and the NYU is absolutely at the very top of my list. However, I have several major reservations about law school in general and I was hoping that I might find a bit of guidance, and perhaps comfort, from people that are actually experiencing it right now..

    To be quite honest, the idea of law school scares me to death. Mostly, I’m overly concerned about the socratic method as well as the extremely intense load of reading. You see, I have and have had severe A.D.D since I was very young (and yes, I was diagnosed long before it became the “cool” thing to do, as I know it has become somewhat of a crazed fad now). It greatly impaires my ability to read a lot, read quickly, and retain much of what I have read.

    For this reason alone, I have considered going to Berkely, for I have heard that they do not use the socratic method and thus there are ways to lessen the reading load on top of which the entire system is based on a pass/fail grading scale.

    Do you believe that I would be able to survive in an NYU environment? Do you believe there is any assistance available to people like me? (whether it be from students, faculty, etc.) Quite frankly I have no desire to move or live in California and it has been a lifelong dream to live, work, and study in New York
    and I would love nothing more than to attend NYU if it would be a possibility.

    Any advice at all would be immensely appreciated. Thank you so much.


  5. I belive that the Socratic method is absolutely necessary to prepare students for the “real world”


1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Living the Paper Chase"
Life at NYU Law · Subscribe RSS Feed now